By Jim Freer
Sunday, Oct. 11–The Gulfstream Park West meet is heading into today’s fifth day with daily average all-sources handle of just over $3.3 million–a 31 percent increase over last year’s four-day average of approximately $2.5 million.
Yesterday’s all-sources handle was $4,666,757 for ten races. On last year’s Gulfstream Park West (GP West) first Saturday, all-sources handle was $3,475,300 for ten races.
This is the second straight October-November in which Gulfstream Park is holding the GP West meet at Calder, under a lease agreement with its neighbor track in South Florida.
Both years, the first four days were Wednesday through Saturday during the first full week of October.From Equibase charts, here are all-sources handle numbers for the first four days of the 2014 and 2015 GP West meets. Ten races were run each of the eight days.
* Wednesday, Oct. 8 — $1,434,678
* Thursday, Oct. 9 — $2,192,435
* Friday, Oct. 10 — $2,930,049
* Saturday, Oct. 11 — $3,475,300
* Wednesday, Oct. 7 — $2,400,744
* Thursday, Oct. 8 — $2,920,839
* Friday, Oct. 9 — $3,109,681
* Saturday, Oct. 10 — $4,666,757
The size of this year’s increase is partly due to the more-than-expected popularity of the new Super Hi 5 bet with rolling carryovers. We will have more about that bet in an upcoming article.
In addition there was a problem with access codes on automated betting terminals, at Calder and several other tracks, that held down handle on the first two days in 2014.
Numbers for on-site and off-site handle for this year and last year for GP West are not readily available. But the on-site portion is no doubt less than ten percent. As always, the Gulfstream brand name has a large following among simulcast and advance deposit wagering bettors.
And it is almost certain that wagering at Calder is lower this fall than last fall, when patrons were permitted into the first floor of the racing building where they could watch and wager on GP West races and simulcasts.
Calder’s parent Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) of Louisville, Ky., owns and controls the Calder property in Miami Gardens.
This fall, they are not allowing patrons into the racing building. Instead, betting is being done in two tents outside the building.
CDI plans to start tearing down the seven-story Calder building in early December as part of a commercial redevelopment of portions of the 250-acre Calder property.
Our on-site observations and reports we are receiving from Calder indicate that wagering and other business has been running about as smoothly as can be expected amid the makeshift circumstances.
“It has been a very good day, and a good start,” Gulfstream general manager P.J. Campo said late in the afternoon on Wednesday.
“I concur with the Gulfstream team. The race meet is off to a great start and the fans seem to really be enjoying the experience,” Calder president Maureen Adams said in an e-mail on Friday.
“Everything is exceeding expectations, and things are going smoothly so far,” trainer Carlo Vaccarezza said on Friday.
“I think everyone should be giving credit to P.J. and to Billy Badgett for the job they and their teams have done in getting ready for the Gulfstream Park West meet,” Vaccarezza added.
Badgett is a consultant to Gulfstream and its parent The Stronach Group, which is based in Aurora, Ont. He is in charge of maintaining the turf course and dirt track at Calder.
For the first four days of the GP West meet there were 17 races on turf, with no races taken off turf due to rain,
For this year’s first four days, there were 19 races on turf. Two races were taken off turf due to rain on Wednesday.
The average number of starters per race was 10.2 for last year’s first four days and 8.8 for this year’s first four days.
One reason why fields are smaller, but still relatively large, is that there are fewer horses stabled at Calder than at this time last year.
Until early this year, Calder had about 1,800 stalls. Last year it leased about 400 stalls to Gulfstream. Early this year, Calder tore down most of its other barns and required trainers to find new locations for about 600 horses. Most were relocated to Gulfstream or to the Gulfstream-controlled stalls at Calder.
What’s at Stake
The GP West meet is being run under terms of an agreement the two tracks reached in June 2014.
That deal ended a bitter dispute over racing dates and the infamous 12 months of head-to-head weekend racing by Calder and Gulfstream, which is in Hallandale Beach eight miles east of Calder.
CDI was willing to take Calder out of racing provided it could keep control of the Calder casino, which has about 1,200 Las Vegas-style slot machines.
A state law requires a pari-mutuel to have live events at least 40 days a year to be eligible to operate a casino.
To meet that requirement, the tracks and their parent companies convinced the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to approve an arrangement under which Gulfstream is leasing the Calder race dates and is running a 40-day meet at Calder each fall. The deal runs through the end of 2020.
It is widely expected that in 2016 Calder will be among pari-mutuels that will ask the Florida Legislature for permission to decouple, and not be required to hold live events while still having casinos, poker rooms and in-bound simulcasts. Calder no longer has those last two activities, except for simulcasts during the GP West meet.
If decoupling is approved There are concerns among Gulfstream, and thoroughbred trainers, owners and breeders that if decoupling is approved, Calder might attempt to find a way to end the deal that goes through 2020.
Thus, the Florida racing community is watching closely and hoping that landlord Calder will maintain cordial relations with tenant Gulfstream during the GP West meet that will end on Nov. 29.